In a world awash in pollutants, toxins, and microplastics, Chinese-American artist and biohacker Mary Maggic foregrounds the radical porosity between our bodies and the environment. Activating hormones and molecules as sites of reckoning in biopower and gender politics, they show us how we survive together—in the world that comes after capitalism run amuck.
“I have my labs here if you want to take a look,” says artist and biohacker Mary Maggic, carrying their laptop over to a flowery suitcase and pulling out its contents onto the wooden floor. The bag has real Mary Poppins energy: it’s packed with a DIY test-tube shaker, zines, dried-up hormones from urine, all manner of tubing, and receptacles. It’s not your usual studio visit, but then neither is it your usual year. We’re speaking over Zoom; I’m in Dubai and they’re in their home studio in Vienna, with a colourful open closet and bike just visible in the background.
The mobile labs are a holdover from when Maggic first began researching hormone hacking and environmental endocrine disruption, which would unspool into Open Source Estrogen and related projects. As an artist, they wanted a practical understanding of the medium, saying, “If my material is hormones then I want to understand my material. I have to be able to visualize my material. How do you see something that’s invisible?” The result was a series of handmade biosensors that allow you to detect hormones, whether in your urine or in your environment and local water supply. They show me some transgenic yeast that contains the human estrogen receptor, and all the reagents and equipment that you’d need to perform the experiment.
“I haven’t seen these labs in, like, three years or something because they were on exhibition as art objects, which I thought was really funny because I was using these labs to give workshops to people.” They laugh as they move onto some of their hormone extraction devices. One, housed in a tin can, includes peristaltic pumps that concentrate a river sample suspected of being contaminated with hormones; another is set up to detect molecules in the air, all the tiny particulate matter and microplastics that we breathe in every day. I think about how Flint, Michigan, didn’t have clean water for five years—a crisis that’s currently playing out in Gaza. I’d always thought potable water was about things like lead, salt, and waste water contamination. After they inform me that some of these plastics hang around for hundreds, potentially thousands of years, I begin to also wonder about all the invisible water crises happening around the rest of the world.
Welcome to Mary Maggic’s Estroworld, where DIY science meets gender, hormone access, and molecular colonization in the Plasticine. I first saw Maggic’s short film Housewives Making Drugs at a group show in New York a few years ago. It’s a home cooking show in the best way possible: two trans femmes, Maria and Maria, get together to banter about the asymmetry of institutional access and to show viewers how to extract hormones from urine to brew up their own. The recipe is speculative rather than prescriptive—safe at-home synthesis of estrogen is still very far away—but contains all the ingredients of a Maggic work: reclaiming bodily agency outside of institutional gatekeepers, with do-it-together pedagogy and a good deal of humour.
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Rahel Aima: A globetrotting art critic, writer, and editor, Rahel now lives in Dubai after splitting her time between the USA and UAE for several years. An associate editor at Momus, her writing has appeared in Artforum, Art in America, Frieze, Real Life, Tank, and scores of other publications. She’s written catalogue essays for artists including Farah Al Qasimi, Kamrooz Aram, Nicole Eisenman, as well as “Manual Override,” the Shed’s inaugural 2019 exhibition.
Anna Breit: Anna is a Vienna-based photographer who works in fashion and artistic contexts, and is focused primarily on people and relationships. She photographs exclusively in analog, often with a signature bright, hard flash, and seldom retouches her work. Her photos have appeared in Artnet, Vogue Italia, Artsy, and other publications, and in April 2021, she published her first photobook Teens (in their rooms) through Fotohof Editionen.
●Mary Maggic, Luiza Prado de O. Martins, and Sissel Marie Tonn Trace “Contaminants of Emerging Concern”
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